Boston's Alternative Source! image!

[Don't Quote Me]
Marty Baron (continued)

Q: Are the columnists edited differently from the way they were when you arrived?

A: I donít know. Are they?

Q: Well, are they edited?

A: I hope so. They should be. They should be edited as rigorously as anybody else.

Q: Someone told me that youíd had lunch with Barnicle. True?

A: No. I ran into him. It was at a dinner party for [Harvard University president] Larry Summers. He was a guest there, and I was a guest there, and we ran into each other and said hello. Thatís basically it. Had a little, small, short chat. But friendly. But Iíve never had lunch with him.

Q: The Globeís local coverage always seems to be the subject of ongoing angst as to what it ought to be. It needs to serve both urban and suburban readers. There seems to be a desire to pursue feature-style, big-think pieces but at the same try to figure out how to balance that with breaking news. I guess the general critique is that sometimes it seems to lack focus. Whatís your take?

A: I donít think that anything that you touched on is an inherent problem. I think that thatís a challenge thatís faced by every newspaper. Every newspaper, any major metropolitan newspaper, has to coverage its urban core and to cover its suburban communities as well. It also has to cover the daily breaking news, and it has to do enterprise that spins off that daily breaking news. I donít see that that represents a lack of focus. The lack of focus would be not doing any of those things, not recognizing what the challenge was, not paying attention.

I donít think that the fact that you have several different missions within a broader mission is somehow a problem. Thatís what weíre supposed to be able to do. Do we lack focus? I donít think we lack focus now. I donít believe we do. I canít make a judgment about it based on what we did before. I think that we want to pay attention to big stories. We want to pay attention to the stories that are important in setting an agenda here in the Greater Boston area. When we did the story about the problems with the power grid and the weaknesses in regulation, those had an immediate effect on the way that the regulations were applied. And our stories on Massport, our stories on patronage, have had an important impact on the way that policy is set, on the way that government is run. An important story that we did in the area of education, which was done by Patrick Healy about grade inflation at Harvard, in which 91 percent of the students at Harvard graduate with honors, has had an enormous impact and is causing Harvard to reassess its own grading policies.

We have an obligation to cover our readers and the issues that concern them wherever they happen to live. Not all of our readers live in the city of Boston. Most of our readers actually live outside of the city of Boston. They have issues that are important to them, that are particular to them, issues of education, issues of public safety, issues of the environment, what have you. And itís important that we cover those. That does not mean that we ignore whatís happening in the city, nor should we. And I would hope that over time weíll be paying even more attention to whatís happening in the city, and whatís happening in particular in neighborhoods in the city.

I donít think itís a lack of focus that we have several different missions. It means that you focus on those missions.

Q: The Herald obviously lacks the resources the Globe has. One thing it does have, though, is a certain vision of what the city is and who its readers are, and it pursues that pretty aggressively. Iím wondering, is there anything about the Herald that youíd like to see the Globe emulate?

A: First of all, I would just point out that a lot more people who want to read us than read them. I think that they are a scrappy paper. They work hard to be competitive, and I admire that, and I think thatís great. And to the extent that their competitiveness makes us better and makes us more competitive, then great. I donít think thereís anything wrong with that. Everywhere Iíve worked has been a competitive market, and I like the competition. But Iím not sure I can point to sort of a single quality about the Herald that I find uniquely appealing.

Q: How about being a little quicker off the mark on certain types of breaking news stories? Is that a fair observation?

A: I donít believe thatís true now. I donít know about in the past, but I donít believe thatís been the case. I just donít believe that thatís been the case in the three-plus months that Iíve been here. And we will try to make sure that that is not the case. As I said, one of the points that I made on the very first day that I was here is that I want us to not be beaten by our competitors on any story of note.

That doesnít mean every little story. That doesnít mean something that purports to be a story that really isnít a story. It means any story of note, and thatís a judgment call. We make those judgment calls. People will come to different conclusions from time to time, but I donít believe that we have been slow off the mark on major stories or stories of note in the last three-plus months.

Q: You spent an important part of your career as business editor of the LA Times. What can we expect in terms of how business coverage might change at the Globe?

A: Weíre actually looking at that right now. Weíre working on prototypes for some changes that weíre likely to make in the business section. I donít know that they would be described as radical, but I think they would be described as ó Iím not sure incremental is the word. Thatís too little. But I think that they would be an attempt to continue to move the section forward. Iím not sure that this has anything to do with my experience at the LA Times or what have you. Itís just an evaluation of how the situation has changed.

Weíre coming off a period where there was this enormous boom in technology, where all these new Internet sites were being created, and where people were making money hand over fist in the market. Right now, people would rather not look at their mutual fundsí net-asset values. Thereís not a lot happening on the Internet at the moment. A lot of these sites have gone out of business. There is not a big IPO market. The whole environment in business has changed, and I think that requires us to reassess how weíre doing our coverage.

There is a new world, and we have to make those kinds of adjustments. The New York Times on Monday [November 26] had a story about some of the personal-finance magazines were having to adjust to the new world, and thatís kind of what weíre having to do as well, and sort of rethink what weíre doing in light of these new circumstances. I think that my interest in business, my background in business, helps me work with the staff in business because I think they recognize ó at least I hope they recognize ó that I know what Iím talking about.

A lot of editors at major newspapers donít have that kind of background and may not have that interest. But I do. I think itís very important. Boston is a major business center, and we need to reflect that as well as we can on the pages of the Globe.

Q: You may be the first Globe editor who has an active interest in the arts, so sort of the same question. Can we expect to see some changes in the way the arts are covered?

A: I think Matt had an interest in the arts, didnít he? Iím pretty sure he did.

Q: Probably about the same as mine, which is an interest but not a deep interest.

A: Right. Well, I donít know how much deeper mine is. I mean, Iím interested, too. I think the fact that I collect some art, probably too much has been made of that. By the time somebody actually sees what I have theyíll be notably unimpressed. Iím no expert in visual arts by any means. Iím not an impressive collector by any standard. But anyway, Iím sorry. What was your question?

Q: Do you have any plans in terms of how coverage of the arts might change?

A: Even before I got here, there were plans to try to move forward in our arts coverage, and we continue to have those plans. I would hope that over the course of the next year the Globe will be able to demonstrate a significant expansion of its arts coverage.

Q: Itís now been about three months since Jack Thomas moved on from the ombudsmanís post. Have you decided how or if youíre going to fill it?

A: We had, actually, an interesting discussion about it. We had a group of editors invited to talk about it and think through what we wanted an ombudsman to be. As of yet, I havenít really been able to find the right person to do it, to tell you the truth, partly because itís not where my energy has been dedicated. And secondly, Iím not sure that there are many people who fit the bill.

We would like somebody from outside the paper. We want somebody who is not going to try to act as a substitute editor-in-chief of the newspaper who would say, if I were editor this is the way I would have done things. We want them to function in the way that ó well, Mark Jurkowitz used this line when he was doing this, that the public was his assignment editor. To respond to the kinds of issues that are being raised by the public, see the broad themes, explore those, explore specific issues and specific incidents, and not just be a critic but also be an instructor for the public in terms of showing how things actually work at a newspaper, sometimes for the good, sometimes not for the good. But not pretending to say, well, gee, if I were editor I would have done this. Just to be a critic of the paper.

Q: Is that a veiled criticism of [Washington Post ombudsman] Michael Getler by any chance?

A: I think each paper has to decide what they want. The Post has had any number of different types of ombudsmen. Itís not a criticism of Getler because it may serve their purposes. It may be good. But Iím not sure itís what we need. Itís not a question of whether I like or dislike what Getler is doing. I actually find it interesting reading, but Iím not sure thatís what the Globe needs.

I think that what the paper wants, and maybe what the public wants here, is someone to represent their interests ó not to be just a regular critic of the paper, to say, oh, the paper did a good job or the paper didnít do a good job on this. The public may have its concerns, and they want those concerns addressed in some way. We are a powerful institution. We do recognize that itís helpful to have somebody in a role who can explore the kinds of issues that the public cares about and who can also help explain how and why the paper did what it did, whether it was right or wrong, and do so honestly and objectively and independently. Thatís what weíre looking for.

I did approach one person about doing this job. We didnít get to the point where the person was actually offered the job. Unfortunately, the person had an offer that was considered to be more attractive. It would have been a resolved issue by now if the person had said yes. Or, I should say, had it progressed it might have been a resolved issue. This person looked like a promising candidate.

Q: One of the possible buyers of the Red Sox, at least as a minority partner, is the New York Times Company. Not unprecedented. The Chicago Tribuneís corporate parent owns the Chicago Cubs. Nevertheless, I would think that such a move would have to present huge difficulties for the Globe.

A: There wonít be a conflict because people will be free to write independently about the team and about the organization, as one of the Times Company executives made clear in our story today [November 28]. We wrote independently about that today. It was first disclosed in a Steve Bailey column. He wrote about it independently. Since then, weíve written about it independently without any interference from corporate. It appears that our columnists have endorsed every bid other than the one in which the Times Company is involved, and [Dan] Shaughnessy doesnít want any bid that has Dan Duquette included, it appears.

Q: He speaks for everyone.

A: [Laughter.] Brian McGrory seems to have endorsed the Frank McCourt bid, and I guess Steve seems to have endorsed one of the other bids as well. So, I think weíve acted fairly independently so far, and I think that would remain the case. Sportswriters will be able to write whatever they need to write about the team. Thatís for sure. Nobody from corporate, nobody here is going to be telling them what to write. And I think that the statement that we reported on today makes quite clear that the Times Companyís involvement will be a minority stake. It wonít be running the team. On top of that, the primary interest of the Times Company is in the broadcast properties, which has been a publicly stated, oft-stated strategy of the Times Company: to get into other media.

Q: It would be difficult to imagine their actually ordering the sportswriters to take a certain tone. But wouldnít there be an appearance that might make Globe people feel uncomfortable?

A: I think there will only be an appearance if the coverage itself is not independent and objective. And I think the appearance to date is that our coverage is eminently objective and independent. I know that will be a case going into the future. Reporters at the New York Times write about the Times Company from time to time as well. There are certain ongoing controversies in New York, and they write about it with full independence and without interference. And those are the principles of the company. Theyíre comfortable with it. Iím comfortable with it, and I have no doubt that we will be writing about the team and the organization and the players and the coach with full independence. I donít have the slightest doubt.

Q: Since the day the Times Company bought the Globe in 1993, thereís been continual speculation that the company wanted to turn the paper into a little more than a profit center to support the Mother Ship. Weíve had this interesting dynamic playing out this year where, with the buyouts, the slashing of the Focus and the Book sections and the like, one might have thought those fears finally seemed to be coming true. Yet, youíve covered the war with essentially an open checkbook, as far as I can tell. And I know that youíve actually expanded the Washington bureau. Do you believe that the Times Company is committed to publishing a great newspaper in Boston, or is the Globe destined to become the Timesí Triple A farm team?

A: There are a couple of premises in there that I think are not true, first of all. One is, I didnít expand the Washington bureau. I donít know what youíre referring to.

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Issue Date: December 6 - 13, 2001

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